Friend and guest Keith Sharp describes his first walking trip with Julie and Kerry from SolWalkingInGreece.
The Pepo Circuit took us to the Deep Mani interior, in contrast to yesterday’s trek on the Tigani panhandle, which is exposed and open on three sides to a vivid dark blue sea.
We’d overnighted in Gerolimenas, generally billed as the last, southernmost town on the Mani peninsula. Town is perhaps an over claim, as it amounts to a few streets clustered around the harbour, flanked by the Cavo Grosso, which rises sheerly and imposingly from across the narrow bay. Minimal, even austere, but all you need is there – a string of restaurants along the harbour front, a small store, even a cash machine. At dinner, Kerry steered us through the Petrino Taverna menu, including some of the freshest, best-cooked whitebait you’ll find anywhere.
Our hotel was comfortable, equipped and brilliantly located – my room balcony looked directly onto the sea and I slept to the sound of endless, rhythmic waves. Julie has built a great relationship with the owners (not to mention acquiring plentiful knowledge of the family and hotel history) and so was able to tweak arrangements, like fine-tuning breakfast timings, to suit our schedule.
Walk start point was a tiny village, Diporo, most notable for its churches and waymark signage. It’s only a few minutes drive from Gerolimenas , but the silence and sense of isolation is immediate. This is true Deep Mani. To your right as you set off, the Profitis Ilias is an uncompromising, sparse mountain of nearly 700 metres. On the left is the even higher Faneromeni; together they dictate a terrain which stark and bleak, yet also majestic. Humbling.
The path leads you uphill as it traverses between these two colossal peaks. It’s stony and rocky underfoot, but easy enough so long as you watch your steps over the stones. Golden rule: either walk; or halt to take in the view and hear the silence. A few spiky bushes and low trees along the way, some symmetrical greening euphorbia and sea squill. We hear occasional animal sounds, but encounter only two cows who look distantly startled to see us. Otherwise it’s steady, careful tread along a trail which is mostly visible and has subtle cairns and red paint markings for the less obvious parts. At a fork, a signpost takes us to the left. We cross the valley river bed — dry at this time of year — and soon reach Pepo, some 450 metres above sea level. A few buildings: two churches, otherwise mainly small houses, one looking recently done up. It’s hard to work out why, in time gone by, people decided this was the place to create a settlement. Thin, poor earth; maybe just enough vegetation to raise animals, like the cows we saw.
Chance for a short break and look around – though it’s the silence that’s most arresting. Us townies, even when we think it’s quiet, there’s the hum of some machinery, maybe cars, in the background. Pepo lets you know what quiet really is.
Break over, you join briefly a tarmac surface track as you head up and to the right to Leontakis, another cluster of buildings. We exchange greetings with a local family, looking out from the terrace of their home — the only other people we saw on the entire walk.
As we leave Leontakis, the highest point of our walk, we join another stone trail and pause for our picnic snack. Kerry carves meats and cheeses, shares out bread and fruit. We look down the valley with that familiar satisfactory sense of being able to see where we have walked so far, to review where we have come from.
Downhill now, and circling back, we pick up another stone path. Lower down, we rejoin the outbound trail and make it back to Diporo once more. Some five hours in all; and finishing in the early afternoon (even in October the climate and heat has to be managed).
And so back to Geromelinas — now seemingly a hubbub of human activity after the isolation of Pepo — for a taverna coffee and relaxation. Maybe a cooling off swim.
Above us, in the afternoon sunlight, you can make out a step path snaking up to the Cavo Grosso peak. It’ll have views across to Pepo and south to the Cape Tenaro peninsula tip. But that’s tomorrow’s walk.
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